Sami Udell: Crafting Success in the Private Chef Industry

Sami Udell

Within the culinary world, few imagine themselves working alongside some of the planet’s most famous people. Those who do are likely drawn to the private chef career path.

Sami Udell didn’t exactly embark on her career journey just to hobnob with celebrities; she’s harbored entrepreneurial ambitions since childhood. Recognizing her passion early on, she started a food truck, offering healthy and delicious meals to the local community.

This vibrant, energetic, and successful entrepreneur now leads one of the most successful private chef businesses in the United States. Her clientele includes real-life superstars. If you’re interested in working with Sami and her A-list clients, keep reading; she reveals what she seeks in private chefs.

What inspired you to choose a culinary career path?

Sami Udell: It all happened spontaneously. My career chose me; I didn’t actively pursue it as much as it just kept unfolding for me. However, I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit since childhood. I always hoped to find something that would ignite enough passion for me to truly dedicate myself to it. Then, around 19, I discovered a deep love for health and wellness. I envisioned myself developing a wellness product or perhaps starting some kind of health-focused company. In a way, I achieved that.

Looking back at my old journals, it’s clear that my entrepreneurial drive in the health and wellness space has always been there.

My inspiration truly stems from my family.

We’re a family of entrepreneurs. My dad always instilled in me the belief that “if you can dream it, you can achieve it.” From a young age, he encouraged me to read business books. My older brother is also an entrepreneur, so the message of “you can do it” and the importance of pursuing dreams were deeply ingrained in our family. Their unwavering support is a constant source of inspiration for me.

How did you realize what type of business do you want to run?

Sami Udell: Early on, I catered events at cost, starting with my brother’s party. Ludacris’ assistant approached me to cook for the rapper-actor, and it went so well that he hired me on the spot. It felt like the perfect job!  Since then, everything has grown organically.

I’ve always strived to improve my cooking and collaborate with other chefs. Collaboration is both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. I delegate tasks and find the best chefs for the job. Even for large dinners, other chefs might prep food, or a favorite chef might accompany me.

This approach has led to imposter syndrome at times. I’ve had a lot of help (my ‘ratatouilles’), but I was still the leader, crafting the vision, menus, and process. Many people have contributed to my success.

Everything grew organically: networking, increasing event demand, client relationships, and connections with nutritionists, trainers, and financial advisors.

Now, I find immense satisfaction in chef placement.  When a client with the right budget approaches me, I know it’s a good opportunity because of my extensive industry experience. I assess the salary, client compatibility, schedule, and grocery budget, ensuring it’s a fantastic opportunity for the right chef.

What obstacles (if any) did you have to overcome to get where you are?

Sami Udell: Intuition is a strong force for me. I have gut feelings about people, places, and contracts, and ignoring them usually leads to regret. It guides my decisions.

Yes, there are challenges every day—obstacles of all sorts. However, facing hardships has strengthened my ability to adapt and respond rationally.

While I’d like to improve my boundaries and sales skills (more closed deals!), every client and chef presents a learning opportunity. Continued action and growth are key.

What qualities do you look for when hiring culinary professionals?

Sami Udell: Honestly, there’s a strong spiritual element to it. While I’m not religious myself, we’ve consistently attracted clients with a youthful spirit and a love for good food and creativity for ten years. There are exceptions, of course, but successful entrepreneurs, artists, and busy athletes tend to find us. They need someone who anticipates their needs and delivers exceptional food without constant communication. 

This same philosophy applies to chef selection. It has to feel right. Sometimes, it’s perfect timing—the right chef sends the right email at the right moment, and the interview clicks. But it’s a multi-step process.

Chefs might not realize how closely I observe details. I start with a small gig to assess communication, responsiveness, efficiency (grocery spending), and timeliness (reimbursements). Passing this stage is crucial.

Missed interviews happen—life gets in the way. Like dating, timing might be off. Maybe it’s not a bad fit, just not the right moment. Energy and compatibility matter greatly. Food photos are important too. Think of choosing a restaurant in Italy; you’d read reviews, menus, look at pictures, and ask friends. It’s similar for me. I conduct background checks, review references, and assess food photos. Finally, a Zoom call gauges energy. In-person meetings were the norm, but our growth necessitated a switch. Thankfully, the company thrives despite this change.

What are the essential skills and qualities that aspiring private chefs should focus on developing?

Sami Udell: Intuition and adaptability are undeniably intertwined in the private chef world. There are multiple paths to success. Some chefs craft their own menus and seek clients who adore their style.

A “yes” mentality, adaptability, and passion are crucial.

Passion for your craft is essential. While money is attractive, private chefs motivated solely by finances are unlikely to thrive.

The desire to nourish people in their homes is unique. Restaurants operate with different equipment, processes, and teams. Private cheffing is often a one-person show. Ultimately, passion is key. It’s more than just being a good cook. Emotional intelligence—responding to unexpected situations, stress, and pressure—is a vital skill. Private chefs need resilience—the ability to bounce back from setbacks and keep going.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of the job?

Sami Udell: The most rewarding aspect of my job is undeniably creating perfect matches between chefs and clients. When I see their styles and personalities click, it’s a thrill. We have to make it happen! Seeing them connect and flourish together years later is the ultimate validation.

It’s like matchmaking, but for kitchens!

Especially for in-home chefs who become part of the daily routine, the client-chef relationship is the secret ingredient. People might not always realize how crucial these connections are, and that’s where I excel. Your chef isn’t assigned randomly. I consider compatibility and energy.

Confidentiality is a challenge. Sometimes, NDAs prevent revealing client details, which feels like cooking without a knife. But research is part of the process, so knowing the client is essential.

My biggest struggle is balancing growth and helping chefs. The pandemic produced a wealth of talented chefs, and I want to support them all. But work-life balance matters too. Sometimes I fantasize about placing a hundred chefs a month, but then I appreciate the five perfect placements that truly changed lives.

It’s about celebrating success, not succumbing to guilt. I can’t help everyone, but the impact I do have is incredibly fulfilling.

How do you find work-life balance?

Sami Udell: Glenda, on my team, runs the back-end operations. She’s my rock and can run the show if I am out.

Client communication is my responsibility. I prioritize prompt responses, usually within 20 minutes to an hour.

It’s manageable—my family and fiancé understand. The other night, during a planned phone-free dinner with my fiancé, a VIP client messaged urgently. I apologized and addressed it; these situations don’t upset me.

While I acknowledge the need for better boundaries (perhaps a dedicated number for new clients), I’m a problem-solver by nature. Currently, it works. I feel healthy and content. 

Overall, I manage. I handle late-night texts and early calls without working excessively. I maintain a healthy work-life balance, fitting in walks or impromptu trips with minimal disruption.

The trade-off is simple: responsiveness for flexibility.

It’s a beautiful life, and I’m incredibly grateful.

What final piece of advice would you give to young people?  

Sami Udell: I think that it’s okay to do things your own way. Some people might listen to your approach and think you could benefit from better systems. However, your business is successful, so your methods clearly work.

Similarly, my dad pushes for more aggressive sales tactics, but I’ve attracted clients through kindness and empathy while maintaining healthy boundaries. This approach works for our specific clientele.

There’s a lot of business advice out there, but as an intuitive person, I believe in trusting your gut. If something works for you, stick with it!

Build a business that makes you happy and filters out unnecessary noise. 

In the culinary world, the journey from aspiring chef to renowned entrepreneur can be as unpredictable as it is rewarding. Sami Udell’s path, driven by her entrepreneurial spirit and a deep love for health and wellness, exemplifies this dynamic evolution. From beginnings with a food truck to leading one of the most successful private chef businesses in the United States, her story is a testament to passion, intuition, and the power of forging meaningful connections. As she continues to match talented chefs with celebrity clients, Sami’s advice resonates – trust your instincts, embrace authenticity, and cultivate a business that brings joy and fulfillment. For those inspired to follow in her footsteps, the journey awaits, filled with endless possibilities and the promise of making delicious dreams a reality.

About WholeSam

WholeSam accommodates, diversifies, and creates culinary experiences. They take care of all aspects of in-home dining, including full-time private chefs and kitchen staff, cooking for private events, intimate dinners, and highly customized meal prep plans. The WholeSam team is committed to simplifying the private chef process, sourcing the best chefs, and deeply listening to their clients’ needs

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